Thoughts on Homework

12 Sep

I haven’t been very good about doing homework, lately. Mainly reading blogs by and for other educators. And when it comes to blogging, at least 50% of the process should be reading what others are saying. It’s silly to think I’m the only blogger/educator with anything meaningful to say.


Special thanks to Michele who brought up something about homework, by way of the original Washington Post article. First, a thought or two on homework:


As a student, I was as anti-homework as a body could get. I never took a book home and hated those special projects assigned by various creative teachers. It seemed like the social studies teachers were the most oppressive, there. Students were putting together model ships, making home-made waterwheels, putting together miniature Apollo orbiters out of toothpicks and tin foil, or sewing together a 6×6 foot flag. all of these were made with obvious “help” from a parent. Mainly, the parent did it. My projects were obviously 100% student made. That means they were shoddy, messy and slapped together hastily. I grew up milking cows; I had better things to do after school than homework. “Homework” for me entailed hours of chores, outside, in the weather. Not that I would have devoted free time to schoolwork at home, anyway. All homework was tedious, boring and repetitive. and my parents were not of the mind to fight and argue with me about it.


Now, as a parent, Thomas brings home tedious, boring, repetitive homework. Jane tries to encourage me to get more involved with the boys and helping with homework is one of her ideas. And it is not a good one. I can get him to do it, but my heart is absolutely not in it. I do not see anymore value in doing a bunch of busywork than he does. He’s inherited his father’s abhorrence for all things redundant, at least in regards to learning. I think I might actually hate helping with homework with the same passion as I hated doing it when I was in middle/high school. He knows how to do the stuff and I basically function as task master, making sure he doesn’t get distracted and that he finished before bed. The boy is only in 1st grade! I agree with Alfie Kohn: kids have better things to do outside of school.


As Michele said, teacher education does nothing to prepare teachers in giving homework. Like discipline, it is an almost inescapable part of teaching and being a teacher. But it is not explicitly taught or addressed when one is studying about how to do the things that teachers do. School policies and practices are way out of tune with research.


Just to extend on the topic a bit more, I’ll add that private schools may be even more out of touch than public schools. Homework and study time are integral parts of the private/charter school experience. The one I taught in years ago mandated that every student be given at least 40 minutes of homework every single day. That’s for every subject. And then if they failed a quiz or test (and quizzes were given daily) they were to be given an extra study hall and an extra hour of homework. Some students had so many extra study halls, that they spent every Saturday at school, all day, sitting in that room at a study carrel. And no one gave any guidance on the type of homework except to say how long it should take. Too bad if it took longer. what was the penalty for incomplete homework? An extra study hall with an additional hour of homework.


I got away with doing less homework as a student because I lived in a rural area. A lot of my classmates were milking cows before and after school (where I only had chores after school) and were often sleeping during school hours. The teachers had to be somewhat flexible, although they typically regarded us as a bunch of hillbillies.


Today, in suburban America, there are expectations and policies that say homework must be given and in practice it is usually just busy work. Sometimes schools try to play the role of social agent by sending work home that actually requires parents to participate. I can think of very little homework sent home with a student in kindergarten that does not require some form of parent participation. And last year, Thomas had well over an hour of it every single night. With my poor attitude about homework, it fell on Jane to crack the whip in getting him to do it. And you can just imagine how she felt about me, and the resentment THAT kicked up. While it didn’t appreciably increase Thomas’ academic skills at all, it certainly did put an even greater strain on a marriage dealing with 2 children with disabilities and the busy schedules surrounding the extra work involved in doing anything.


But the pro-homework folks are not thinking about that. Everyone thinks that family involvement is all good, and any activities designed to get the family involved should enhance a child’s education. So schools go out of their way to encourage it, if not try to force it. But instead of binding a family together, it ends up being a sore spot and a source of stress. We are working longer hours, driving further to work, with limited quality time with our children. Now, what little time we have is dominated by squabbles over homework. Thanks, schools. Thanks a lot.


It’s small wonder that a good percentage of homework is actually done by the parents. Let’s just get this crap done, so Johnny doesn’t flunk, and then we can get on with our lives! The temptation to just grab it and do it just to be done is enormous! I feel kind of silly writing each letter of the alphabet 30 times, but I figure that if Jane takes 10 letters, and I take 10 letters and Thomas takes 6 letters, we should all be able to finish before bed time.







11 Responses to “Thoughts on Homework”

  1. Alexander's Daddy September 12, 2006 at 5:01 pm #

    I wanted to let you know that I so much appreciate your writing but do not take the time to comment, which is a disservice to you. I just wanted you to know that we are out here reading and enjoying what you have to say.

  2. Dick September 12, 2006 at 11:37 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by, A.D.! Like every blogger, I like comments but I also know one can never expect more than 20:1 on comments and here it is nearly 100:1 as in page views:comments. I accept that as this blog is more informational than actually trying to provoke something. Sometimes I do get my blood up, but mostly I try to share my stories while providing a little helpful info along the way. Plus I like reading what everyone else is writing! I just wish I had more time for it!


  3. liz September 13, 2006 at 6:30 pm #

    Hey, since your boys have IEPs, get “homework reduction/elimination” as part of the IEP!

    The bane of my existence as a parent: spelling homework.

  4. lisa September 24, 2006 at 9:07 pm #

    i hate homework. my kids hate homework. now my kids hate me because i have to make them do homework. now i hate me because i hate to make them do homework. so here i am with two kids who are “accelerated learners” and all i can think is how long before they just say NO. Fifth grade? Sixth grade? I think of all those people at the back of the scool in high school smoking pot and skipping class. A few of them showed up at the 20th high school reunion. Everyone was sooo impressed. It is interesting to note that when an intelligent person is able to persue what interests them, and not just what they are told is important to do- the world in their oyster. I just hope i am not raising a couple more sheep.

  5. STV November 13, 2006 at 5:31 pm #

    I am a freshman in high school, who has a Asperger’s Syndrome – a form of autism. Not only is my day longer, but my district is in the lead and because of that, they truck load us.

    We’ve brought it up in IEP meetings, and they’ve just said, ” Oh try the homework. ” Well I did for 1 1/2 terms and it is stressing me out to the point of insanity. They don’t care – I tell them that they focus on coping with stress.

    Unacceptable. We will get a doctor (phd) that has helped us before. He agrees that it is completely unreasonable for them to not reduce homework for any IEP kid, ESPECIALLY FOR ASPERGERS.

  6. Dick November 13, 2006 at 5:52 pm #

    The value of homework has been questioned by some recent research. Basically, if a person is spending more than an hour on homework per night, it becomes counter-productive.

    Having said that, I think one caveat is worth mentioning: College. If you are at all planning to attend college, getting used to the workload may not be a bad thing because students are expected to access most of their own learning. And virtually every college freshman gets blown away by the incredible workload and expectations. Thing is, not everyone wants to go to a typical university. Working right out of high school, the military (despite what certain politicians say), the peace corps, technical schools; these are other options and actually make up the majority of high school graduates.

    But good for you in being involved in your IEP planning!


  7. homeworkKillsKids&makesThemFat January 23, 2007 at 10:52 pm #

    Anyone who thinks homework is a good tool should go get a life.

  8. Canadian Teacher September 26, 2007 at 9:18 pm #

    As a teacher, I only assign homework when I am unable to get through all of the material in the course of my time with my students. This is usually a direct result of student behaviour, as I refuse to teach over top of students (if they are talking I will wait until they are quiet).

    Usually its tough at the beginning of the school year, as kids have a lot of homework for my class. However, as the year progresses most kids get the hang of it, and I am nearly always able to get through the majority of the curriculum material during school time.

    I disagree with the concept that homework is completely evil – what’s killing kids and making them fat is not homework, but poor eating habits, lack of exercise and hours playing video games, watching television, and surfing the net. Homework, in part, is to help students to become disciplined.

    I was looking for a template letter for incomplete homework when I stumbled across this blog. It’s nearly 8:30 at night, and I’m still at work marking assignments – if I hadn’t learned discipline in school I would never complete my marking and planning.

  9. Dick Dalton September 26, 2007 at 9:49 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by, Canadian Teacher! But y’know if you had been more disciplined and less distracted by blog reading and commenting you’d have finished your planning and marking a half hour earlier!;-)

    Homework could help teach discipline, but I’m not sure it’s the best way to do it. I was one student who learned discipline by being more active on the farm with purposeful activity. Most of what passes for homework nowadays isn’t very active or purposeful.

  10. depressed October 3, 2007 at 2:45 pm #

    well i agree with all the against comments
    here at my shcool i get around 3 hours a nite without a break its unacceptable
    i also dont take history too
    it stresses me out to a point of litteraly wanting to kill some one or something even myself
    god help us all who are suffering and screw the parents who think it helps
    i also dont get a school lunch and thats against the law
    i also dont have time to go to the bathroom ever so ill grow up to be a guy with a weak bladder, skinny as heck, and pissed all the time
    i really hate my teachers too they just pile it on me like its funny to them
    we had a home football game that everyone went to ok so we went to english class and the damn teacher says for homework do 3 10 page packets on pronouns
    yea right my ass
    so we all said come on and he says GUYS DONT PROTEST IN FRONT OF ME I DONT WANNA HEAR IT! i was really about to say screw you faggot
    because of homework i have to go to a phsyc doctor every month for meds all because of the damn teachers
    they just cant lay off on one thing
    its like a disorder and it should be treated
    and now i hate life
    and if i talk to a teacher about too much homework they send me to the principal for that
    ha ill get them back in 10 years you just watch bastards
    sorry for the language but i just cant deal with this right now
    i come home dead tired passing out sleepeing then i have to be woken up for damn homework
    i hate school to the point i wanna die
    homework causes stress which builds up cholesteral which will kill you eventually
    so yea it is a killer

  11. Laura Argiri November 1, 2007 at 5:38 am #

    I am very much against homework, particularly the “project” sh*t that requires extensive adult input. I have seen stressed-to-breaking, embattled relationships in my own family and in that of our close friends because of this idiocy. One term-long marathon of copying out information on birds from the encyclopedia in third grade was the turning point of my relationship with my mother; by the time it was over, I understood that she didn’t always know what she was talking about, was terrified of even petty authority, would side with it against me, and was willing to hit me, threaten me, and impose any level of stress on me out of misguided vanity. It is fine to perceive such characterological points in adolescence; age eight is too early, and over such a crock of ordure! And I find it criminal that Americans zonk out so many kids, particularly boys, via the paradoxical response that children have to stimulants…creating pharmaceutical zombies who can be made to endure boredom and confinement that they would not endure in their right minds. I do give my mother full credit for not allowing me to be on the cutting edge of the Ritalin revolution; she was chary enough of chemicals that she refused to allow me to be drugged.

    I wonder if the education industry has really considered the fact that eight hours a day and forty hours a week is a normal work schedule for an adult…who has some choice about her/his job and gets paid for it. An adult who works ten or twelve or more hours a day has less of a real life (and, unless wealthy enough to hire help, a nastier house and junkier diet) as the hours increase and may feel that he/she has a cruel schedule. I sustain that a six-hour school day is enough for any child, eight is enough for any teenager, and ten or twelve or more comprises cruelty and is counterproductive to mental and physical health.

    I don’t have children, but if I did have them and for whatever reason had to have them in a school that gave hours of homework, I’d hire someone to do it, swear the kids to secrecy on how it got done, and see to it that they got exercise, loving family interactions, and a chance to have a real childhood in their spare time. Character and emotional stability are built by sane and happy family life, and I would not allow anyone to interfere with that if I had kids.The only kind of homework I’d feel comfortable enforcing is SHORT math and grammar drills and a modest amount of independent reading, and I think it’s best to go very easy on the latter lest the child come to hate reading before having the chance to develop a love of literature. I feel lucky that my love of books survived through my lifelong and sincere hatred of school.

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